Everything I’ve ever learned about DIY haircuts

The learning process of cutting my own hair has been about as hacked together as some of my diy haircuts. I’ve been cutting my own hair for over ten years, and that learning process has involved blunt chunks of hair sticking up from the back of my head and many hours circling the internet like a vulture. A vulture that feeds on “Quick Tips for cutting your own hair” and “How to Add Texture to your A-line Bob*.”

In the years since I started cutting my own hair, I developed the skill of learning new skills. I know the ratio of reading to practice that works for me, and how much I need to observe and copy others until I can work on my own. And I know now that it would have been smart and efficient to watch a video of someone cutting hair. I could have done it seven years ago, and it would have saved me a lot of time.
In all those years, I never once watched a youtube video. I’m not patient. I’d rather take two minutes to read an article than ten to watch a video. But the youtube videos far outnumber the articles, and they have much more specific information. Most of the videos seem to be stylists addressing other stylists, but I’ve spotted at least a couple diy haircut videos. A person can only spend so much time reading Yahoo answers like this:

Help how do u cut ur own hair with layers I cant go to the salon plz thx???

Half the answers always say, “You can’t do it at home. Please get a professional to cut it or you’ll ruin your hair.” And there will maybe be one useful link.

I finally gave in and watched a couple of youtube videos. I learned a lot from this video about cutting a pixie haircut, and I thought I’d share it because it contains so much that I learned through trial and error:

It’s long, but even after cutting my own hair this way numerous times in the past, I picked up some useful information. Also, some of the other videos I watched had double-fast sections with loud, irritating dance music that was maybe supposed to get me psyched about style and high fashion.

Still, most of what I know about cutting my own hair, I learned slowly, over many years. Here are the big ones:

Part your hair in sections

It’s way more fun to hack away with a hair-cutting razor while listening to loud music than it is to methodically part your hair in seven sections and go about things in an orderly fashion. But like a drawing or a piece of writing, it’s best to start with the overall structure and then fill in the details. Have you ever tried to draw someone’s living room by starting with the weird 70s upholstery on the couch? And then the couch took up way too much space, so you couldn’t fit in the funky end table?

And definitely look up hair-cutting razors. I find them easier to use on my own hair, and they’re a good way to add a lot of texture (although, as a friend told me when she cut my hair, everything adds texture). The downside is that you really have to be careful about making sure the blades are sharp, otherwise you end up with split ends** pretty soon after the haircut starts growing out. I’ve used this stainless steel Fromm Razor for nine years–it’s been an essential tool for most of my diy haircuts. The replacement blades are also cheap.

Learn to cut your hair blindly

It’s hard to get a good double-mirror set-up, especially if you’re a renter and have limited control over what you can do to your living space. Over the years, I’ve learned how to cut my hair by feel. Watching the youtube video confirmed that this wasn’t a bad strategy; the stylist frequently used hair cut to the desired length as a guide to cut the hair near it. That’s basically what I had taught myself to do by blindly.

Wear contact lenses

Better yet, don’t be near-sighted at all. I switched from contacts to glasses a few years ago. It’s tricky to cut around the ears now.

crappy hair reference pic

This is the sort of blurry, cut-off nonsense you get when you try to take a reference picture of yourself with a bulky tablet. Get someone else to take a picture, or better yet, multiple pictures. It’s the best way to decide what you like for next time, and also doubles as a neat memento of the super 70s wood paneling in your old apartment.

Be hyper-observant

If you’re using a picture as a reference, study it closely. Unless you have long hair (and therefore a lot of room for error), don’t just estimate what you’re cutting. Study how your own hair behaves, and where it has curls or cowlicks. How is your hair textured? Straight and fine is less forgiving to error than thick and wavy. Where does a particular chunk of hair start on your head, and what direction does it grow? Take pictures of your own hair. If you don’t like how your cut came out, figure out specifically why.

Use celebrity pictures for references

I resisted this for a long time. But the fact is that there are a ridiculous number of photos of any given celebrity. It’s easy to find pictures of the same haircut from different angles. Also, I’ve been watching a lot of Once Upon a Time, so obviously I want Ginnifer Goodwin’s hair because Snow White is a badass.

Use body parts as landmarks

Inches aren’t that useful, except for when you need to use clippers. Anyone who’s ever asked for a one-inch trim and gotten a massacre knows that. I’ve found that inches aren’t useful in home haircuts either. References to ears, eyebrows, and jawline are more helpful. If you’re using reference pictures, look for where the hair falls in relation to those landmarks. I also suspect that using body parts as guides is a good way to make the haircut more harmonious and suited to your face.

Get a short haircut from a professional

I didn’t start to get better at cutting my own hair until I’d been doing it for five years. That’s not because there was a five-year learning curve, but because I was afraid to go too short, so I never cut it the way I really wanted. After a professional cut my hair into a pixie, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I knew how I looked with very short hair, and I knew that if I ever messed up, I could go to the salon and have it fixed.


*An A-Line Bob is a haircut, not some guy with a nickname that has a long, inside-joke type story behind it.
**I didn’t understand what split ends actually were until I started cutting my own hair. Or, I understood what they were, but not why they were a problem. You know when you badly need a haircut, and the ends of your hair feel like prickly thatch? Split ends. Probably, this is not news to anyone else.

The End of the Caterpocalypse

Caterpillars are fascinating in the singular, disgusting and devastating in the plural. I don’t believe it was technically a record year for the number of gypsy moth caterpillars, but they ate enough leaves to transform large areas of Southern New England into leafless wasteland. Driving through some of those areas, I began to think, “An actual apocalypse could start out looking like this.”

We’re in the final days of The Caterpocalypse*. The caterpillars are basically all gone now, but their effects remain.

DSC02199

All those leaves are caterpillar food. Maybe the childrens book The Very Hungry Caterpillar isn’t so cute after all.

Comparing those bare trees to an apocalypse was kind of a dramatic thought. But then, it was a dramatic sight. During the weeks that this happened, I wasn’t online much, didn’t have many hours at either of my jobs, and didn’t really leave home a lot either. I hadn’t seen any news of the caterpillars at all. I was basically a writer-hermit, and it was a shock when I went to visit my parents and saw thick shag carpets of gypsy moth caterpillars trying to climb past barriers of cardboard and duct tape.

It started with the noise: the sound of rain falling when there was no rain. My brother informed me that this was the sound of caterpillar crap falling from the trees. I didn’t totally believe him; in my head, I filed what he had said in the same space as urban legends. And yet, every time I heard that noise, I couldn’t shake what he’d said. It kind of made sense, and well, my car was covered with little black dots that had to have come from somewhere.

The annoying and disgusting aspects of all this presented themselves first: caterpillar droppings, difficulty eating outdoors, lack of shade from the hot sun, rashes from the caterpillars. I cheered on my chickens as they cleared the caterpillars from the area surrounding their coop. They ate so many that they got tired of them. But the possible consequences of the situation occurred to me soon after. What if the leaves didn’t grow back?

The trees would die.

I told myself that it’s probably unlikely that we’d have a legitimate ecological apocalypse. But then, things like that do happen. My line of thinking basically boiled down to, “It can’t happen here.” But of course, it could.

Right now, I’m reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. His discussion of social epidemics starts with a discussion of actual disease epidemics. What’s scary is that not a lot has to change for an existing disease to expand massively into an epidemic. I know caterpillars aren’t the same as diseases. There’s an entire ecology affecting their population. But maybe just some tiny change, in some coming year, would be enough to tip caterpillar leaf consumption from large areas of leaf cover to all the leaf cover. This year, a dry winter was apparently enough to inhibit the growth of a fungus that balances the caterpillar population.

“Will the leaves grow back?” I asked my uncle, a gardener and former biology teacher, and therefore An Authority on the Subject.

They would, he said, but it didn’t shake the unique sense of unease that comes from walking under winter branches on a 90 degree day.

We’re in the final days of the Caterpocalypse. Sometimes, I drive through the bare areas and I see the spring leaves starting to pop in. It’s not as disorienting as bare branches, though it is definitely strange, and I assume there will be other consequences of this.

There are a lot of moths out.


*The main thing that inspired me to write this post was the fact that I hadn’t seen any news articles use the term “caterpocalypse,” which seemed like kind of a waste. It’s much less of a stretch than “snowmageddon” was, though it could look as though it’s referring to a tragedy involving a catered event.

Unhelpful things to say to someone with an animal phobia

If you tell someone you have an animal phobia, there’s a good chance they will respond with unhelpful platitudes and alarming anecdotes. They may be completely well meaning, but plenty of well meaning people say uncomfortable things.

This has been on my mind because I had an incident the other day. It was a split-second ripple of silver as a snake fled under a shrub. Suffice it to say, the snake, who may not even live on the property, is now Lord and Master of my front yard. If I spend any amount of time standing there, a sense of panic starts to build until a voice starts yells in my brain, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHAT ARE YOU DOING IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN. GET OUT OF HERE.” Like when you watch a horror movie and someone goes up to the dark attic.

My phobia is bad enough that I felt sort of icky and unhappy writing the last paragraph. This is why, from here on out, I will be using Miniature Schnauzers for all my examples*. Thanks to wikipedia, I just learned that ophidiophobia is something I have in common with one third of all adults. I couldn’t even find a specific term for a phobia of Miniature Schnauzers (though I apologize to any general sort of cynophobes reading), so I hope this is a less alarming way to put things.

And so, here is my list of unhelpful things to say to someone with an animal phobia:

You’re bigger than it.

Size has nothing to do with it.  Of course I should be more afraid of the Giant Schnauzer, which can wrap itself around its prey and suffocate it. But a Miniature Schnauzer is small enough that you might not see it slithering along in the grass until you’ve almost stepped on it, and that freaks me out more.

It’s more afraid of you than you are of it.

No, no it isn’t. It’s a reptile small canine, with an itty bitty reptile canine brain. It doesn’t have the mental capacity for a severe, activity-restricting phobia. Also, the degree of the animal’s fear has nothing to do with the degree of my own fear.

We don’t really have poisonous Miniature Schnauzers around here.

Doesn’t matter. Phobias aren’t about logic. The amount of actual danger isn’t always a factor in how strong the fear is. Even when it is a factor, it’s usually exaggerated. Eventually, this kind of knowledge can help dispel a phobia. Eventually. But having someone tell me—just as an offhand comment—that I shouldn’t be afraid comes across more as blowing off fears that are very real to me.

empty pantry shelves

A tidy pantry is less attractive to Miniature Schnauzers.

Except for this one type of poisonous Miniature Schnauzer you see now and then.

Yes, this is a legitimate concern. Now, because I have a severe phobia, I ‘ll be freaking out about the small possibility that I’ll one of the rare poisonous types.

That’s ok. A lot of people are afraid of them.

I don’t care. That sucks for those other people, and I feel for them. But other people sharing my phobia doesn’t change its negative impact on my life.

The most shocking story you can think of.

“You’re afraid of miniature schnauzers? Oh man, my Aunt Dolorothy used to have one. Poppy was so friendly, and she used to lick everybody’s hands. Then one day my Uncle Freddington found my aunt in a bathtub of ice water and no kidneys and Poppy had the kidneys in her food dish.”

ALL the horror stories you can think of involving that animal.

“You’re afraid of Miniature Schnauzers?”

“One time my cousin found a Miniature Schnauzer in her mailbox and it bit her.”

“One time my cousin found a Miniature Schnauzer in her tent, and she still can’t go camping.”

“One time I saw a Miniature Schnauzer eat a frog and it was so disgusting but I couldn’t look away.”

“One time a Miniature Schnauzer came at me when I was swimming, and let me tell you I never swam so fast in my life.”

“One time I was doing laundry in the basement—we live in an old house–and a Miniature Schnauzer came out of a crack in the wall and I dropped my hand towels that have a picture of a sweet little cottage on them.”

“Remember the restaurant that used to be on the corner of Main Street and MadeUp Road? Yeah, they had to shut that place down because the kitchen was infested with Miniature Schnauzers.”

I used to know someone who was aware of my phobia, and would come to me with any Miniature Schnauzer story she heard. I guess it was a way of bonding, a topic she figured we could talk about. A lot of these stories took place near where I lived, like at the trail where I went running. It became harder and harder for me to use that trail.

Exposure therapy is an effective way of dealing with a phobia, and learning to cope with this kind of story would be an eventual goal. However, one key to exposure therapy is that it be voluntary.

You probably shouldn’t watch…

Actually, some of the more helpful comments I’ve gotten are about movies to avoid. Sometimes I can handle them, and sometimes I can’t. But if someone goes on to describe the scene in question, it goes right back to being unhelpful. On the other hand, I could probably make a nice list of movies to watch if I want a mental challenge. Movies to watch when I’m a braver person.

Mostly, I’ve learned that if I tell anyone about my phobia, I must be clear. I’m not a little scared; I have an irrational fear to the point that I don’t want to see or hear anything at all. No stories, no pictures, no movies.


*A therapist told me that it’s better in the long run not to use code names like this. It’s another avoidant behavior, and it only gives the phobia more power. But it was funnier to me this way, because Schnauzer is a funny word.

Please Kill Me and then go do some stuff

A few years ago, I picked up Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk on the used book shelf at the grocery store. We put it on our cinder block bookshelf next to our Star Wars books and our giant thesaurus, and whatever other books we have on display in our living room that we think make us look cool, but actually do the opposite.

Please Kill Me sitting on the shelf

Please Kill Me thinks it’s cooler than the other books on my shelf. Even the Star Wars ones.

For years, music books were among the few types of nonfiction that could hold my attention through a few hundred pages. One day, I picked up Please Kill Me on a whim and read a few pages. I remained hypnotized in its pages until I finished it.

There’s less about the music itself than I would like, and the focus is on a fairly small number of bands. Plenty of TMI moments as well. However, it stitches together direct quotes so seamlessly that sometimes it doesn’t feel like reading separate voices. And despite the overwhelming number of people whom I’d probably hate if I met them in real life, it really conveys the living community of the New York punk scene, and it makes me want to be there. It reminds me of how important community is.

I wanted to share this quote from Legs McNeil, one of the authors of Please Kill Me (from page 334):

“Overnight, punk had become as stupid as everything else. This wonderful vital force that was articulated by the music was really about corrupting every form—it was about advocating kids to not wait to be told what to do, but make life up for themselves, it was about trying to get people to use their imaginations again, it was about not being perfect, it was about saying it was okay to be amateurish and funny, that real creativity came out of making a mess, it was about working with what you got in front of you and turning everything embarrassing, awful, and stupid in your life to your advantage.”

At its best, punk wasn’t about studied coolness or meticulous safety-pinning. It was about doing shit. Kicking down doors. It was refusing to be stopped by roadblocks on the obvious path in front of you, roadblocks that say “you can’t go here,” and taking that DIY spirit and making your own road out of salvaged bricks and broken glass and a found bucket of tar*.

That quote reminds me to make my own damn artwork to hang in my apartment rather than to buy manufactured art from Target or someplace, and to make that artwork out of subjects and materials I like rather than worry about getting things a certain way. It’s better to do something creative and true than it is to make the place you live a poor copy of something in a magazine.

It reminds me of why I’m going to help make a new wooden table top for what used to be a glass deck table but, thanks to an incident** that qualifies as “embarrassing, awful, and stupid,” is currently just an empty frame sitting on a sad deck.

It reminds me to write the things that I write, and that the things I write usually have to start out as a mess.

It reminds me to experiment and do things and learn, because so, so many people do not do things, only consume them. It reminds me that the biggest difference between many of my bad days and my good ones is that I did real things on the good ones. I made life up for myself.


*You can tell I know a lot about making roads.
**We didn’t buy a base for our umbrella because we didn’t like any that the store had. We knew we needed to get one, but the umbrella didn’t blow away, which sort of caused an idea to creep into our heads—an idea that maybe we didn’t need a base after all. Sometimes, we left the umbrella open, though we knew not do this. But again, nothing tragic happened, and another idea crept into our heads—an idea that it’s probably not the end of the world if we leave the umbrella open sometimes. One day, we came home to find that our umbrella had nearly blown off the deck in a big gust of wind, and a pile of tempered glass pebbles sat underneath what used to be our table top. And we knew better.

Chicken coop makeover

13226812_10209621081906648_8609289013697179421_n

Real afternoon shadows mingling with painted shadows beg the question “What in our lives is really real? Is life just a shadow on the wall of a chicken coop?” Right?

Our flufforaptors have grown into sleek, russet-feathered chickens. They aren’t fully grown just yet, but it was time for them to move out to the coop. After extensive online research, I learned that moving chickens to a new home fifteen minutes away is generally a five-hour process, and you should expect to spend most of that time attempting to lure them into a cage with chive flowers and lentils because picking them up is impossible.

Oh wait, that’s just what we did.

But first, I spent some time earlier this week tricking out their coop.

Initially, we painted the coop a light blue color that I’m told is “colonial blue,” whatever that means. It came from a one-gallon can of Home Depot Oops Paint—the paint that is returned to the store, and then has extra pigment added so that no one can run an awesome Home Depot Oops Paint Scam with their friends.

13237733_10209636301887138_4489533308907269557_n

“Yesterday we lived in a cardboard box. Today, we have our own three-by-eight foot coop. It’s the American dream.”

Anyway, I painted weeds on the sides, just in case anyone didn’t know that my partner and I (any my mother-in-law, whose house the coop is at) are all kind of hippies. I based the design on a typeface called Aierbazzi, which has drawings of meadow weeds instead of letters. The drawings stack together so that a word becomes a single clump of weeds rather than one letter-drawing after another, all in a row.

To get the color, which I wanted to look like shadows on the side of the coop, I mixed black paint in with the coop’s base color. We’re all happy with how it came out, but the chickens don’t care. They’re basically just happy that their new home has plenty of interesting structures to fly on.

As it turned out, I gained some skills at picking up chickens. My partner and I were so pathetic at getting them out of their box that we actually googled “how to move chickens,” followed quickly by “how to pick up chickens,” because we needed less advanced information. Then, after one of our failed efforts to lure them into the cages with flowers (yes, exactly like a five year-old might do), one them them escaped.

Quickly and firmly, as this blog suggests, I scooped her up and yelled, “Grab a box!”

Dan freaked out, and we had what was probably a really stupid dialogue:

“What do you mean? What box?”

“A box. Like a box. Cardboard!”

“What box? What box?”

“A box! A box! A box with flaps.”

In the end, that was how we moved them all to their new home. The first few times I tried to grab the other chickens, they freaked out in a crazy flurry of flapping wings and scattered pine shavings. That made me freak out, and I’d let the chickens get away. But I kept telling myself, “quickly and firmly.”

Don’t let their freakout become your freakout. That’s the other thing I learned. It’s probably a good strategy for dealing with people too. Thanks, flufforaptors.

Decluttering alternate universes

Trying to get rid of clutter isn’t difficult because throwing things in a cardboard box is beyond the skill of the average human. It’s difficult because it’s not about getting rid of items, but rather about destroying alternate universes.

A bunch of beads and wires aren’t craft supplies you never used. They’re an alternate universe in which you wear badass wire jewelry that you’re too much of a diy punk to just buy from someone else. And in this universe, you don’t do that thing where you kink up the wire and then throw it back in the drawer because now it has a bunch of little micro-bends.

An old school ID from a school that you didn’t actually attend is an alternate universe in which you did go there. You transferred of your own volition, and felt good about it, and had different (i.e., actual) job opportunities when you graduated, and things are better in that universe.

messy apartment

This is an alternate universe in which I never moved out of my messy old apartment. It’s not just some picture of my old apartment, ok?

I’m looking at a pile of crap on my desk right now. There are only a few things that can simply be put away without dramatics and wishful thinking. Everything else is an alternate universe, even if it’s not one that’s a major divergence from the established timeline. What kind of person, besides nihilistic madmen on Doctor Who, has the heart to go around wantonly destroying alternate universes? And the simple alterna-folk who live in them?

I can understand why books and articles on decluttering are so popular; I just sat down to clean my desk, and instead started to write about thinking about cleaning my desk.

The problem is that, from what I’ve seen, a lot of this advice is based around dubious mental tricks. You can see them in any women’s magazine in a dentist’s office.

Sally from Nevada sends us the following decluttering gem:
I like to get together with a friend and pretend I have terminal eyebrow cancer and need to sell all my wordly possessions to pay for an experimental Himalayan salt treatment. What would I still keep? What would I “sell” her to save my eyebrows?

Even advice like “Throw out anything you haven’t used in the last six months” is a mental trick. It imposes an arbitrary standard that has nothing to do with why you own a particular item, why should or shouldn’t get rid of it, and why you’re not going to. It also doesn’t make much sense if you apply it to tools. You might not use your precision screwdrivers frequently, but it doesn’t make any sense to throw them out just because your glasses or computer haven’t broken recently.

It’s tough to say goodbye to something that represents a possibility, even a possibility long past. I don’t have a handle on that at all, but I think the key is in keeping the things that are keys to places you still need to go from time to time.

But I also think that even your alternate universe self has alternate universes to destroy. Maybe one of them is yours.